No. 1 Villanova vies for Big 5 sweep, visits Temple

PHILADELPHIA — The Villanova Wildcats returned to a familiar spot in the rankings as they prepare to visit Big 5-rival Temple Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center.

Villanova (10-0) ascended to No. 1 Monday in the Associated Press poll for the third straight season after winning its first 10 games. The Wildcats will also attempt to sweep the Big 5 portion of their schedule for the fifth straight season and collect their 22nd consecutive win over Penn, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and Temple.

The Owls are 6-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big 5.

“It’s always an honor to be ranked No. 1,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It’s great for the ‘Nova Nation and we appreciate the respect of the writers and coaches. We know it’s early, though, and we need to get a lot better.”

Villanova moved to No. 1 for the first time in program history in February 2016 and remained there for three weeks on its way to the program’s second national championship. Last season, the Wildcats spent seven weeks at No. 1 during the regular season.

Ironically, Villanova struggled in its last game, a gritty 77-68 win over La Salle on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center.

“We know how tough these games are,” said Villanova guard Phil Booth, who scored 18 points against the Explorers.

“It’s great to be involved in games like (La Salle) and come out with a win. These are really good teams that challenge you, especially at the defensive end.”

Temple is the last team to defeat the Wildcats in Big 5 action, a 76-61 victory at The Pavilion on Dec. 5, 2012.

“Temple has played one of the toughest schedules in the country and it’s reflected in their RPI,” Wright said. “This is an outstanding team and it’s Temple-Villanova at their place. We know how big a challenge this is.”

The Owls will face Villanova when it’s ranked No. 1 for the third straight season. They’re 2-17 all-time against the top-ranked team in the country.

In Temple’s last game on Saturday, it built a 16-point lead with about five minutes remaining before frantically clinging to an 81-78 victory over Saint Joseph’s. Shizz Alston Jr. led the way with 20 points while Quinton Rose added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Senior guard Josh Brown knocked down 5 of 6 free throws in the final 33 seconds.

“I think any game you can win — we’re in this for the long haul,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “Obviously this was a good basketball team. I thought we did some really good things in stretches today.

“Obviously we didn’t finish the game the way we would’ve liked to, although Josh saved us at the foul line. I thought he played great today and the other day as well (against Wisconsin). Very proud of him. It’s always important to get a win.”

Villanova leads the overall series against Temple 48-43, but the Owls hold a 16-9 advantage at home.